Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mark Brooks (p), Mendoza/Olazaba/Brooks (i), Martin/Molinar (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The second Ultimate Spider-Man Annual is the polar opposite of the first in two distinct ways. First, the team of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Brooks deliver 38 pages of wall-to-wall action this year, whereas last yearís annual relied on drama, some strong facial expressions from the art team, and equally strong dialogue by the writer. Spider-Man comics have always been about two sides of the same coin; this time around itís the costumed aspect of the book that drives the story. In fact, Peter Parker never sheds his mask for even one panel in Annual #2.
Second, this issue serves the purpose of closing the door on one lingering subplot, directly contrasting last yearís annual which instead opened the door to the next yearís worth of stories by jumpstarting the relationship between Peter Parker and Kitty Pryde. Despite the differences, both have proven that annuals can be relevant again.
US-M Annual #2 serves mostly as a sequel or epilogue of sorts to the previous seven-part ďWarriorsĒ arc in the main series. And it works quite well, despite an end result that is utterly predictable and thus anticlimactic. The Jeanne De Wolfe (spelled differently in the Ultimate Universe for your convenience!) subplot comes to a head with such haste that almost suggests Bendis grew tired of the subplot and saw the annual as a prime opportunity to bring some closure to it. Itís too bad, because the idea had a lot of potential. Still, it allows for an instance in which the Kingpin is actually humanized. Bendis is wise in not crossing the line in making Wilson Fisk sympathetic, but he does shine some light on an oft-ignored part of the character which makes for a quiet and powerful ending.
Bendisís greatest success comes in the way the story is paced and the way he juggles a large cast of characters. The larger action sequence including De Wolfe, Spider-Man, Moon Knight, Daredevil, the Punisher, and, believe it or not, Ultimate Kangaroo, is broken up by flashbacks for each character from the previous day that keep the fight scenes from being tedious and slowly reveals the charactersí motives. Daredevil in the Marvel Universe is already as ďultimateĒ as possible, which is probably the main reason the character doesnít already have his own ongoing Ultimate series. But the point here isnít the differences between the two incarnations of Matt Murdock; the point is how Ultimate Murdock interacts with Spider-Man. Daredevil represents the grown-up, life or death world of superheroics, contrasting greatly with Spider-Manís almost happy-go-lucky attitude. Indeed, the entire issue deals with the theme that even though he hides behind a mask and plays with the adults, Spider-Man is still just a kid. And if he wants to continue to survive in the crime-ridden streets of New York City, heíll have to grow up fast.
Itís been said before, by myself and other critics and readers, but itís worth repeating that Mark Brooks should be next in line for the job as regular penciler on Ultimate Spider-Man. The artist respectfully channels his inner-Bagley with astounding levels of energy and grace from panel to panel. The Easter egg near the beginning gave me a chuckle as well.
In the end, Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #2 is a rather by-the-books action story. Itís still perfectly enjoyable, but pales in comparison to the novelty of last yearís edition. However, itís worth mentioning that the conclusion is much more intriguing and open-ended than I expected. Daredevilís final words could very well be the launching bad for a story possibility that has me frothing at the mouth. After a somewhat predictable and ho-hum wrap-up to the action, itís a real treat to hear the genesis of what will hopefully be the upcoming Bendis/Marc Silvestri project Marvel has been teasing.
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